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Australians are turning to pet ownership as a source of comfort and joy, but what happens when an owner outlives their pet?

Pet ownership delivers emotional and social benefits but it comes with its own set of responsibilities.

It creates a bond that can last for decades, which is why many Australians are increasingly making sure their pet’s health, wellbeing and care will continue if a pet should outlive its owner.

The impetus is stronger than ever, given pet ownership boomed through the pandemic, with Australians now owning 30.4 million pets across the country according to an Animal Medicines Australia study. More than two-thirds (around 69 per cent) of households now own a pet, led by a surge in dog ownership.

Given the average dog and cat can live for 14 years – and some live for more than two decades – it’s important to let people know about how you want your pet looked after.

“You don’t want your pet to be left with no resources and headed to the nearest animal shelter,” says Michael Crowe is the National Manager of Estate Planning at Equity Trustees.

One way to do this is by providing a provision for your pet in a Will.

One owner left $100,000 in their Will to an animal foundation to oversee ongoing care for their dog. The foundation was required to find the dog a permanent new home, plus meet costs to cover the rest of the dog’s natural life. Famous fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld was also known for his dedication to his white Birman cat, Choupette. He left $1.5 million dollars to Choupette via his Will.

However, it doesn’t require such large amounts to make provisions for your own pet in your own Will.

Without any provisions, pets can be rehomed or passed onto family or even friends after you die. But without clear directions, a pet may be fought over between family and friends or even euthanized due to lack of animal care and knowledge.

How to protect your pet

There are a number of ways to protect your pet in the event you die before them:

  • Will – It’s important to include your pets because they’re completely dependent on you. Under Australian law your pet is considered property in your estate. If you don’t have a valid Will when you die, your pet will go to your next of kin. The simplest provision for a pet under a Will is to gift a pet to a family member or trusted friend.

  • Pet Care Plan – Write a detailed list of everything needed to care for your pet. Include registration details, microchip number, veterinary contact details, groomer’s contact details, dietary restrictions, favourite toys, bedding and even their usual routine. Create an emergency contact list that includes family, friends or neighbours who can quickly reach your pets. Carry a copy on you and inform the executor of your Will.

  • Pet Trust – Writing a pet trust allows you to decide who will take over guardianship of your pet, how they should be cared for, and how their care is to be funded. A trustee will then distribute the funds to your designated guardian to use as per your instructions. It’s a good idea to discuss your wishes with your nominated friend or relative.

  • Pet Legacy Program – Your pet can be left in the care of a Pet Legacy Program provided by a charitable organisation. Through these organisations, your pet will find a loving home. You need to register your pet and make a specific monetary bequest in your Will for each pet registered, which will go towards their future veterinary care.

More information about Equity Trustees’ wills and estate planning services is available on our website